Monday, February 1, 2021

February issue released! Cholla Needles #50!


The featured authors in this issue are:

Kelsey Bryan-Zwick
R Mason McElvain
Royal Rhodes
Hayley McCullough
Timothy Robbins
Franca Mancinelli
John Taylor
Kent Wilson
Robert DeLoyd
Allison Whittenberg
Michael G. Vail
Jonathan B. Ferrini
Ishikawa Tokuboku

cover and inner art by Kelsey Bryan-Zwick

Keep up with our featured readers at our weekly Zoom Party every week.
Click here for more info on our Zoom Readings. . .

Book Review: Shadow on the Minotaur by Miriam Sagan

REVIEW: Shadow on the Minotaur by Miriam Sagan 
Red Mountain Press, ISBN: 978-1952204050

This wonderful little book arrived at our library yesterday with a one word command handwritten on the title page: "Enjoy!" Why not? I thought I'd keep it by my desk for the next week or so and read it though.  Well, last night when I sat down to read it I found I was unable to put it down. Sagan's writing and story line sucked me directly into Thea's world, and I found myself captivated. At some point my eyes closed to dream my version of the ending, and I woke up this morning with page 86 open on my lap. So I picked it up and read the rest of the book the way Sagan wrote it. I can't tell you if it matched my dream or not. I slept soundly.

The narrative is easy to follow, yet unlike any narratives I have read before. Thea is the main character and speaks very little though the first part of the book. We meet her through the eyes of others and learn to enjoy their company and hers even though they disappear after they've had their say. This is explained - at this point in her live Thea is not expecting characters to be permanent. The cab driver who introduces us to Thea drops her off and "as he drove toward his next passenger, her forgot about Thea." As readers we do not know when we turn the page if the main character will be Thea or the cab driver.

We quickly find out that we'll be living with Thea throughout the book. She has a past she is anxious to forget, and we live with her during a time she has decided she will never heal from, but she is willing to survive whatever life throws at her next. Sagan's narrative leaves itself open for the reader to decide if this is reality complete with delusions, or fantasy. I love the way Sagan leaves it to me to decide for myself. Early on in the book we learn how Thea's struggles are universal, and why we need to finish the book. Thea enters a yoga studio with 10 other women in the class "like a novel, with each person carrying a story, hidden pain, hidden strength."

I recommend this book, and it is available here in our library along with many other books by Miriam Sagan. You'll find it on shelf D6. Email me first to be sure no one else has it at the moment. If you love Mike's Magic Burgers by Rose Baldwin, you'll definitely enjoy this story. 

Good times! 

- - - - - - - - -

Other books by Miriam Sagan in our Library:


A Hundred Cups of Coffee 


Unbroken Line 

Map Of The Lost 

The Widow's Coat 

& Star Gazing 

Thursday, January 28, 2021

Book Review: Shakespeare in a Divided America By James Shapiro

Shakespeare in a Divided America:
What His Plays Tell Us About Our Past and Future

By James Shapiro

Reviewed for Cholla Needles by Greg Gilbert

Click for more info

     Shakespeare’s plays and sonnets offer multifaceted lenses through which we may interpret the world, and “there’s the rub.” In Shakespeare in a Divided America, author and Professor James Shapiro, a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences who has several award-winning books on Shakespeare to his credit, turns that lens on interpretations of America. While the author’s credentials suggest an informed and scholarly reading experience, which proved true, I was delighted to find that his book is wickedly entertaining as well, even bawdy on occasion, and politically astute.

      Divided opens with John Quincy Adams’s complaint about Othello, chiefly that Desdemona marries a “blackamoor.” Quincy, a leading abolitionist who had opposed slavery since 1783, viewed intermarriage as an “outrage upon the law of nature.” Thus begins Shapiro’s chapter “1833: Miscegenation,” an approach that sets the stage for a chronological examination of successive epochs, each a consideration of how Shakespeare was used by competing interests. Successive chapters (“1845: Manifest Destiny”; “1849: Class Warfare”; “1865: Assassination”; “1916: Immigration”; “1948: Marriage”; “1998: Adultery and Same-Sex Love”; and “2017: Left | Right”) offer scenes of rising action and conflict that culminate in a “to be or not to be?” of America as an unresolved question.

      Shakespeare’s dominant role in shaping America is itself a curiosity. Shapiro speculates that an absence of rivals and a use of language that sounded like the King James Bible may have contributed to “a Bible-obsessed nation” adopting the Bard.  Alexis de Tocqueville observed that volumes of Shakespeare were plentiful among “pioneer’s huts” during his 1831 tour of America. Today, Shakespeare’s works are the most published, performed, and discussed in America, indeed, the globe. Even so, how Shakespeare became so influential in America remains, for Shapiro, an unresolved mystery.  His introduction speculates that at “some deep level Americans intuit that our collective nightmares are connected to the sins of our national past, papered over or repressed in the making of America and its greatness; on occasion, Shakespeare’s plays allow us to recognize if not acknowledge this.” Yet, as Shapiro saw, in November 2018 the parents of students in North Carolina were upset to learn that the “satirical 1987 adaptation The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged) at the school included ‘suicide, alcohol consumption, and ‘bad language.’” As responses to Shakespeare proliferate, so too do the readings and interpretations.

      Indeed, in 1845 debates on America’s Doctrine of Manifest Destiny resonated with soldiers in Corpus Christi, many of whom identified with Iago’s laments in Othello about how rank is conferred, in their circumstance by seniority or by merit: “where each second / Stood heir to the first.” The soldiers built a theatre and performed. Here is where Shapiro is a bit wicked in highlighting one young soldier’s femininity as why he was asked to play the part of Desdemona. The young man, clean shaven, five-seven, and 135 pounds and with that “streak of the feminine in his personality” made the youthful Ulysses S. Grant the perfect candidate. While he spurned that role, he later played a lead, with whiskers, as head of the Union Army and as President, his personal stage craft shaped during an era of American exceptionalism.  

      Shakespeare was invoked by both sides of those who would annex Texas and make manifest “American dominion to the Pacific.” Manifest Destiny was the populist slogan of the day. A futile counter-appeal by abolitionist Robert Charles Winthrop to fellow congressmen in 1845, relied on Shakespeare’s King John:

——Here’s a large mouth, indeed,

That spits forth Death and mountains, rocks and seas

Talks as familiarly of roaring lions

As maids of thirteen do of puppy dogs.

What cannoneer begot this lusty blood?

He speaks plain cannon fire, and smoke and bounce. (2.1.458–63)

      To which Winthrop adds his paraphrase: “And against whom are all these gasconading bravadoes indulged? What nation has been thus bethumpt and bastinadoed with brave words?” The answer, as we now know, arrived in the form of our “sea to shining sea” telegraphs, waterways, rails, and commerce. “Inherent in Manifest Destiny was a belief in manly superiority. Like a headstrong wife, Mexico had to be taught a lesson, roughed up a bit.” And in the forging of a continental dominion we find the sinew that connects young Grant’s femininity to an American exceptionalism that transforms the very norms of manhood, as evidenced by the evolving role of gender in Romeo and Juliet.

      As “norms of manhood began to change, mirroring the split between martial manliness and effeminacy within Romeo himself, male actors found the role increasingly unplayable.” Popular British actress Charlotte Cushman was as masculine as young Grant was effeminate, a woman who could capture Romeo’s inner turmoil. When performing as Romeo in Boston during the 1851-2 season, a man heckled her manly characteristics. She stopped performing and threatened to personally “put that person out,” thereby receiving what she described as the greatest ovation of her illustrious career. Even so, the piling up of dead American soldiers between 1848 and 1865, more than 800,000, spurred an interest in a “less manly acting style—exemplified by the ‘poetic’ Hamlet of Edwin Booth” as well as an end to female Romeos. As introspective and bombastic male personas competed for approval, their performances were viewed also through lenses of class warfare.

      The chapter on class warfare opens with the “massacre” outside the Astor Place Opera House in New York in 1849 when “somewhere between 10,000 and 24,000” protested a performance of Macbeth. “The theater, not for the last time, found itself at the center of a riot, one fueled by a heady mixture of racism, nationalism (spurred by anti-British sentiment), hostility toward abolition, and economic anxiety.” Two actors presented strikingly different interpretations, Forrest and Macready, in a city where nearly “10,000 New Yorkers would see one of these three productions of Macbeth that night.” To some, Macready’s “gentle manliness” was being eclipsed by the coarser Manifest Destiny perspective put forth by Forrest’s interpretation. Was a ruthless Macbeth killed by a gracious Duncan, or was Macbeth a symbol of assassinated greatness? If any of this sounds familiar, it should.

      In the book’s final chapter, we read about how the “Right under Donald Trump—who may be the first American president to express no interest in Shakespeare—now found itself struggling to find anything in the teaching or performance of Shakespeare’s plays that aligned with its political and social agenda.” At stage center is Julius Caesar at New York’s Central Park open-air theater, the Delacorte, in the summer of 2017. But first, a little background is in order. An architect of Trump’s political ascendancy, Steve Bannon, had in an earlier incarnation attempted an adaptation Shakespeare to the screen. After the failure of his sci-fi interpretation of Titus Andronicus, he attempted a screenplay adaption of Coriolanus that relocated the setting at the Rodney King riots, complete with rival street gangs. More about stoking fear and anger than ideas, his treatment failed, but it did set the stage for future events.

      Thus, during the Trump presidency, when the Delacorte’s business suit clad Caesar was felled, a video clip was acquired by Breitbart and the New York Times and featured on Fox & Friends. The headline: “’NYC Play Appears to Depict Assassination of Trump.’” Among the outraged were Mike Huckabee, Eric and Donald Jr., and a chorus of those who wanted the blood of the performers. So many threatening calls ensued that the theater had to send “people to voice mail.” Steve Bannon declared, “’The establishment started it. . . . You all are gonna finish it.’  . . . the action he was encouraging, in Antony’s words, would ‘let slip the dogs of war,’ unleash chaos that would overturn the established order.”

      Within the order of the book, American history comes full circle, as is fitting. Between the first act and last there is much to recommend. Shapiro’s consideration of The Taming of the Shrew in Chapter 6 considers marriage in post-World War II America and discusses various approaches to Katherine’s final speech calling for women to abase themselves. Shapiro actually applies scholarship to tracing mid-century incidents of men spanking women on stage, in films, and in comic books and magazines, with a visual link in bibliographic essays at the book’s conclusion. Most amusing is his treatment of Kiss Me, Kate, a musical based on The Taming of the Shrew, where Cole Porter smokescreens the debasement scene with a bowery rendition of “Brush Up Your Shakespeare.”

      Cole Porter’s contribution was to infuse  . . . hints of transgressive behavior. The provocative Kinsey Report—Sexual Behavior in the Human Male—had just been published, offering a long-hidden view of American sexual practices. It was so topical that Porter even name-drops “the Kinsey report” in his racy song “Too Darn Hot,” then alludes to Kinsey’s revelations about what American men were really up to: infidelity, masturbation (“pillow, you’ll be my baby tonight”), and homosexual activity (“A marine / For his queen”).

      It’s staggering what Porter got away with in Kiss Me, Kate, especially in the repressive frontstage world. So, for example, when Lois Lane’s Bianca sings about her desire to wed (because she is so eager to have sex), her seemingly clueless language is almost beyond the pale, as her willingness to marry any Tom, Dick, or Harry turns into a desire for what sounds like any “hairy Dick”—and then to a longing for what sounds identical to the words “a Dick, a Dick, a Dick, a Dick, a Dick, a Dick, a Dick, a Dick, a Dick, a Dick, a Dick, a Dick.”

      From his examination of The Tempest where Caliban becomes a lens into America’s treatment of Native-Americans and other non-whites and through his insights into Harvey Weinstein’s campaign to win an Oscar and avoid being killed by Brad Pitt, Shapiro entertains and informs. From the absurd and offensive to the heart wrenching and comical, Shakespeare in a Divided Nation places the lenses of history’s most influential writer over the Lincoln assassination, over our racial, class, and gender divides, and concludes by placing that lens over us, the readers. This is a book for thinkers as well as Shakespeare scholars.

_ _ _ _ _ _

Greg Gilbert is the author of Afflatus.

More info

Saturday, January 16, 2021

January Virtual "Open Readings"

Welcome to our January 2021 Shelter-In-Place Video "Open Reading". A huge thanks is due to all the folks who have participated either as audience or as featured readers in our Cholla Needles Zoom Shelter-In-Place readings. 

There's no way I thought this Covid experience (first advertised as a flu) was going to last this long. Because it's a tough cookie that plans to create havoc with our live events for some more months into the future, I am pleased that we are able to have these video experiences to share with each other. I can honestly say hearing your voices electronically is keeping me sane. 

If you have a video you'd like to share, please - send me a note & let me know. We consider this a community page, and is not limited to only our "featured readers". This spot is here to help us experience the love of great writing until we can meet together in one spot again.

So, if you are browsing our pages, we consider YOU a part of our family and you are welcome to become part of our Shelter-In-Place video pages. Simply contact us at & ask how to get your videos posted on our pages. You can also use this address to send us your poetry, short stories, essays, and art for publication in our monthly magazine. 

Good Times!!! Enjoy the videos:

John Sierpinski reads 
Lonesome Goose Lonesome Train

Allyson Jeffredo reads 
a series of Sonnet Crowns

Francene Kaplan reads Lost and Looking Ahead

Mark Evans reads Bridge of Sighs

Kendall Johnson reads Kentone - Hwy 18

Noreen Lawlor reads Hung With Silence

Kurt Schauppner reads
To The Dead Mouse Found 
In One Of My T-Shirt Drawers

Susan Rukeyser reads 
Timeline for Decomposition

Caryn Davidson reads Full Sky

Michael G. Vail reads The Ravens

Don MacQueen reads Resolution

rich soos performs Comin' On

John Sierpinski reads Prison In Lebanon

Francene Kaplan reads Millions of Caterpillars

Mark Evans reads A Kiva Telephone

Kendall Johnson reads 
Day 8 - Sunday Afternoon

Noreen Lawlor reads I Come

Kurt Schauppner reads 
Thoughts After Walking 
In The Hills Near My Home

Susan Rukeyser reads 
The Worst Girl's Best Day

Caryn Davidson reads 
Descent with Modification

Michael G. Vail reads Acid Reflux Blues

Don MacQueen reads Severed Lifeline

rich soos performs Rock Hard

John Sierpinski reads Two Poems

Caryn Davidson reads 
Pareidolia - Rock Pile in Lost Horse Valley

Francene Kaplan reads 
The Girl In The Box At The Dump

Mark Evans reads Two Poems

Noreen Lawlor reads Sad Lioness

Kurt Schauppner reads 
Thoughts On My Mother 
Preparing To Turn Ninety

Caryn Davidson reads 
Pantoum for Yucca Brevifolia

Michael G. Vail reads Ryland Road

Don MacQueen reads Still Life

rich soos performs No More Spontaneity

Brian Beatty reads Hobo Radio

Jean-Paul L. Garnier reads
Betelgeuse Dimming

See you again in February!!!!

Friday, January 1, 2021

January Issue Released! Cholla Needles 49 =:-)


The featured authors in this issue are:

Dave Benson
Bettina Barrett
Michael G. Vail
Pat Anthony
Timothy Robbins
Emalisa Rose
Kent Wilson
Ishikawa Tokuboku
ayaz daryl nielsen
Ernest Alois
Jonathan B. Ferrini

cover art by Timothy Robbins

Keep up with our featured readers at our weekly Zoom Party every week.
Click here for more info on our Zoom Readings. . .

Thursday, December 17, 2020

December Virtual "Open Readings"

This is being posted just in time for the Winter Holidays, 2020. I give thanks to all the folks who have participated either as audience or as featured readers in our Cholla Needles Zoom Shelter-In-Place readings. Though I miss our live meetings tremendously, I can still give thanks that we have found a meeting alternative & we can continue building each other up. Enjoy the videos below! I give thanks to the over 175 videos that have been posted on our many Shelter-In-Place pages posted so far in 2020. As always, if you are browsing our pages, we consider YOU a part of our family and you are welcome to become part of our Shelter-In-Place video pages. Simply contact us at editor (@)* & ask how to get your videos posted on our pages. You can also use this address to send us your poetry, short stories, essays, and art for publication in our monthly magazine. [*for web newbies - when sending emails leave out the spaces & parenthesis when writing the email address].

Good Times!!! Enjoy the videos:

Steve Braff - Hanukkah Blessing

r soos composition Advent Meditation 1

Romaine Washington - Time Transfusion

Lauren Henley and Zara Kand
discuss & read from
"From the moon, as I fell"
on The Desert Split Open Webcast

Lisa Mednick Powell and Miri Hunter sing Give The Guns To The Girls

Kurt Schauppner reads One Sunday Morning

Noreen Lawlor reads When Asked

Kendall Johnson reads Four Poems from A Whole Lot'a Shakin'
Ginny Short reads Inter Lupine et Canine

John Sierpinski reads Light Night Hotel HBO

Francene Kaplan reads from Dogmander Pt I

Allyson Jeffredo reads from Even Gods

Don MacQueen reads Break

Tamara Hattis reads Three Poems from Colors of My Pain

Hayley McCullough reads Self-Examination

r soos composition Advent Meditation 2

Romaine Washington reads Resignation

L.I. Henley & Zara Kand
sharing a portion of their book:
"From the moon, as I fell"

Miri Hunter and Lisa Mednick Powell sing I'm So Glad

Kurt Schauppner reads
Five Haiku About Home

Noreen Lawlor reads Mojave Haibun
Kendall Johnson explains his writing process

Ginny Short reads Is That Love

John Sierpinski reads Inopportune Times

Francene Kaplan reads from Dogmander Pt II

Allyson Jeffredo reads from
Songs After Memory Fractures

Don MacQueen reads Last Letter from Yuma

Tamara Hattis reads This Is Not A Test

Hayley McCullogh reads Intentions

r soos composition Advent Meditation 3

Romaine Washington reads Mapping Home

L. I. Henley & Zara Kand
discussing their book
"From the moon, as I fell" Pt 1

L. I. Henley & Zara Kand
discussing their book
"From the moon, as I fell" Pt 2

Mark T Evans reads Sunflowers Of A Andaluz

Kurt Schauppner reads For Ed

Noreen Lawlor reads Hung With Silence

Kendall Johnson reads Elegy In White

Ginny Short reads A History of Trauma

John Sierpinski reads Family Reunion
Francene Kaplan reads from Dogmander Pt III

Allyson Jeffredo reads Did No One Ever Tell You The World is Full of Ghosts

Don MacQueen reads
Poet's Reply to "and what do you do?"

Tamara Hattis reads Eye Shadow Trio

Brian Beatty reads Hobo Radio

See you again in January!!!!

Tuesday, December 1, 2020

December Issue Released! Cholla Needles 48 =:-)


The featured authors in this issue are:

Sonya Wohletz
Christien Gholson
Maura Atwood
Jeremy Szuder
Dave Maresh
Edward L. Canavan
R Mason McElvain
Mitchell K. Grabois
Malathi Maithri
Michael G. Vail
Robert DeLoyd

cover & interior art by Jeremy Szuder

Keep up with our featured readers at our weekly Zoom Party every week.
Click here for more info on our Zoom Readings. . .